The Legislature is preparing to renew and extend mayoral control of the New York City public schools. Before it does so, it should consider some important and necessary changes.

I have studied the governance of the New York City Public Schools for many years. My first book, published in 1974, was a history of the city’s schools. (The Great School Wars.)

I support mayoral appointment of board members with checks and balances. At present, there are no checks or balances, and no meaningful role whatever for parents and communities.

For most of the 20th century, the mayor appointed the board members. The board selected the Superintendent of Schools, who reported to the board. To prevent the Mayor from filling the board with cronies, the candidates for the central board were vetted by a screening committee comprised of leaders from recognized civic groups. The Mayor made sure to have a balance of appointees from different boroughs who reflected the people of the city.

Every district had a functioning local board to respond to parent concerns. The local boards were representative of their districts and were usually appointed by the Central Board after consultation with local leaders.

Today, the New York City Board of Education lacks any checks or balances. It has been reduced to a city agency, completely subservient to the will of the Mayor. The Mayor, not the central board, selects the “chancellor.” The chancellor serves at the pleasure of the Mayor, not the central board. The central board does whatever the Mayor tells them to do. He can fire them if they don’t follow his orders. Local school councils are powerless and ignored.

As the Legislature reviews the renewal of mayoral control, I hope it will restore checks and balances.

The so-called “panel on educational policy,” which doesn’t even exist as such in the law, should be restored as the Board of Education of the City of New York. Its members should be selected by the Mayor from a list of people reviewed by an independent panel of civic leaders.

The Board, not the Mayor, should appoint the Superintendent of Schools, who should be an educator, not a business person. The Superintendent should serve at the pleasure of the Board, not the Mayor.

Public policy over the schools should be reviewed and vetted in public, not behind closed doors in City Hall.

The Mayor should retain his control of the overall budget, which is vast power, but the details should be left to the Board and the Superintendent.

Local boards in every district should be appointed by local leaders, with the approval of the Central Board. Elections of local boards have been tried but failed to garner a decent turnout and are easily captured by politicians and special interests

There is no perfect way to organize a system that enrolls over one million children. Every organization has faults. But the least perfect way is to turn the school system over to the Mayor, with zero checks or balances, and no input whatever from parents or communities. The Mayor should not be a dictator of education policy, free to do whatever pleases him.

Autocracy is wrong. The Mayor is not an educational expert. It is his or her responsibility to make sure that the members of the board are people of great integrity and that the budget is adequate to the needs of the children.

But the Board should not be his solely owned property, to do with as he wishes. The Board should choose its executive and that executive should answer to the Board, not the Mayor.

Yes, renew Mayoral Control, but renew Democracy too.

Diane Ravitch